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NEW! Extra video lectures for those whose equipment can handle longer videos.

The following lectures were taped during Greg Nagy's "The Concept of the Hero in Greek Civilization" course in Fall 1998. They touch on similar points as the video clips provided for this series, but also make use of parallels in modern media, such as film clips that have been incorporated into the lectures. Each lecture is about an hour long.

Bonus Video 1

Bonus Video 2

Bonus Video 3

Bonus Video 4

Bonus Video 5

 

Unit 3: Odysseyscrolls xiii-xix In this unit the hero returns home, but in disguise. In order to reassume his former identity he must reestablish connections with his philoi in Ithaka. As you read pay close attention to the ways in which Odysseus tests each one and the order in which the connections take place. Consider as well once again the image of Penelope as a righteous king in connection with the return of Odysseus.

1. Read Odyssey scrolls xiii-xix .

2. View the video lectures (below). Lectures IV of the series examines the political significance of Odysseus as helmsman of a ship. Lecture V explores Penelope's dream in Odyssey xix and the concept of ainoi (plural of ainos) as well continuity with modern Greek traditions. Finally, A short segment from a section discusses Odysseus' reconnection with his dog Argos in scroll xvii.

 

Copyright 1999, President and Fellows of Harvard College

For viewing the video clips, you need the free software available from RealVideo. It's available as a download for PC, and Macintosh.

Real Videos for Unit 3: These lectures are exerpts from lectures in the Harvard Core course "The Concept of the Hero in Greek Civilization," and the many references to the "course" in them are to that course and not this on-line series.

Lecture IV: The Ship of State: The Odyssey as a Metaphor for Governing the Polis

Lecture V: The ainos as Key to Heroic Identity.

Additional video (recommended especially for first-time readers):

Close reading: This segment was recorded during one of Mary's sections of the undergraduate course entitled "The Concept of the Hero in Greek Civilization" (Harvard University, Fall, 1999). In it the class discusses the passage where Odysseus 'reconnects' with his faithful dog Argos (xvii 290-327)

Close reading

In this discussion, the group looks at this passage carefully, or executes what we call a 'close reading' of it. We examine the details of this scene and discuss their significance. Two important points emerge: one is that the dog looks like Odysseus looks in his disguise, and thus is like a metaphor for him. Metaphor is meaning by substitution, and the dog could be 'substituted' for Odysseus in his rags. The other is that the dog is representative of all that has gone wrong in Odysseus' home in his absence. The dog is therefore also a metonym for the house. Metonymy is meaning by connection, and we think of the house as a whole by connection with the description of the dog. This simple but touching passage thus conveys a good deal of meaning through the details of the description of the dog. We might also consider the reconnection in this passage--how it is immediate and direct, even though Odysseus is in disguise, and how it compares to reconnections with people like Penelope, with whom Odysseus has a more complex relationship.

Discussion Questions for Unit 3

1. Once Odysseus arrives in Ithaka, he makes a series of "reconnections" with his philoi, those who are near and dear to him. How is the order in which he makes these reconnections significant? How does Odysseus "introduce" himself to various people? As one example, consider the ainos that Odysseus tells Eumaios at xiv 459ff. (note that Eumaios calls it an ainos at xiv 508). Also, compare the reaction of the dogs as Odysseus approaches Eumaios at xiv 29ff. with the story of Argos at xvii 290ff.

2. Consider the metaphors used in these scenes of reconnection. For example, an important reconnection for Odysseus is, of course, with his son in scroll xvi, and in considering this scene, we might reconnect ourselves to our prevous discussion of Telemakhos in Unit 1. After Odysseus reveals himself, the father and son are compared in their crying to birds (xvi 213ff.): "As he spoke he sat down, and Telemakhos threw his arms about his father and wept. They were both so much moved that they cried aloud like eagles or vultures with crooked talons that have been robbed of their half fledged young by peasants. Thus piteously did they weep..." What is the significance of the metaphor? Can we find any common threads in the metaphors used in these scrolls?

3. In Scroll xix of the Odyssey, Penelope speaks with the guest in her home, the disguised Odysseus. At one point in their conversation (xix 535ff.), Penelope tells him about a dream she had--the passage is included below. Examine the details of the dream, including the "metaphor" that explains itself. Compare this dream to the portent in scroll xv 160ff.--why is Penelope's dream so like the omen that Helen, of all people, interprets? Why is Penelope telling the dream to the "stranger" and asking him to interpret it if the dream has, in effect, interpreted itself? Why would Odysseus have a vested interest in there being only one interpretation? Do you think Penelope knows that she is speaking to her husband? And why does she say that she thinks the dream is one of the false variety? Be sure to look at the surrounding context for clues in how to interpret the passage.

"Listen, then, to a dream that I have had and interpret it for me if you can. I have twenty geese about the house that eat mash out of a trough, and of which I am exceedingly fond. I dreamed that a great eagle came swooping down from a mountain, and dug his curved beak into the neck of each of them till he had killed them all. Presently he soared off into the sky, and left them lying dead about the yard; whereon I wept in my room till all my maids gathered round me, so piteously was I grieving because the eagle had killed my geese. Then he came back again, and perching on a projecting rafter spoke to me with human voice, and told me to leave off crying. "Be of good courage," he said, "daughter of Ikarios; this is no dream, but a vision of good omen that shall surely come to pass. The geese are the suitors, and I am no longer an eagle, but your own husband, who am come back to you, and who will bring these suitors to a disgraceful end." On this I woke, and when I looked out I saw my geese at the trough eating their mash as usual."

[554] "This dream, lady," replied Odysseus, "can admit but of one interpretation, for had not Odysseus himself told you how it shall be fulfilled? The death of the suitors is portended, and not one single one of them will escape."

[559] And Penelope answered, "Stranger, dreams are very curious and unaccountable things, and they do not by any means invariably come true. There are two gates through which these unsubstantial fancies proceed; the one is of horn, and the other ivory. Those that come through the gate of ivory are fatuous, but those from the gate of horn mean something to those that see them. I do not think, however, that my own dream came through the gate of horn, though I and my son should be most thankful if it proves to have done so. Furthermore I say - and lay my saying to your heart - the coming dawn will usher in the ill-omened day that is to sever me from the house of Odysseus, for I am about to hold a tournament [athlos] of axes."

 

 

Euryklea washes the feet of Odysseus

Lecture IV

This brief segment explores the Odyssey and its "captain" Odysseus as a metaphor for governing the Greek city state. On the surface the Odyssey is a story about a voyage and homecoming, but the subtext has to do with the agenda of the city state. The Greek word for captain, kubernêtes, becomes the Latin word gubernator and our word "gubernatorial."

Lecture V

The ainos as Key to Heroic Identity

1. Key word for today: krisis 'judgment, crisis', abstract noun derived from krinô 'judge, distinguish, make distinctions'.

1a. kritêrion = criterion for judging, distinguishing, making distinctions

1b. kritikos 'critical' (in both senses: 'crisis-related' or 'criticism-related')

This lecture aims at an overview of the macro-narrative of the Odyssey in terms of the numerous micro-narratives that we may describe as examples of ainos.

Review definition of ainos : 'authoritative utterance for and by a social group; praise; fable'; ainigma 'riddle'

1a. 'praise' as in the victory-songs of Pindar

1b. 'fable' as in the Fables of Aesop

1c. 'riddle' as in the Riddle of the Sphinx, a key symbol in the Oedipus Tyrannos of Sophocles, which we will read later on.

The prerequisites of ainos: The hearer must be

1. sophos (plural sophoi) 'skilled, skilled in understanding special language'

2. agathos (plural agathoi) 'good, noble'

3. philos (plural philoi) 'friend' (noun); 'dear, near-and-dear, belonging to self' (adjective)

= 3 qualifications (1 intellectual, 2 moral, 3 emotional) required for understanding ainos

Reminder: ainos is to audio as sêma is to video. As a code, the ainos (or sêma) can have hidden agenda. It can be a secret password for initiation into mysteries, for example. The "secret password" can take the form of a song.

2. Aristotle Poetics 1452a29ff, discussing "recognition scenes" in e.g. tragedy (his criteria apply to epic as well): "Recognition [ana-gnô-risis] is ... a change from ignorance to knowledge [gnô-sis], tending either to affection [philia] or to enmity; it determines in the direction of good or ill fortune the fates of the people involved" (tr. Margaret Hubbard).

With the help of this most useful definition, let us consider the potential for "recognition" in focus passage "A":

A) from Odyssey xix: "Listen, then, to a dream that I have had and interpret it for me if you can. I have twenty geese about the house that eat mash out of a trough, and of which I am exceedingly fond. I dreamed that a great eagle came swooping down from a mountain, and dug his curved beak into the neck of each of them till he had killed them all. Presently he soared off into the sky, and left them lying dead about the yard; whereon I wept in my room till all my maids gathered round me, so piteously was I grieving because the eagle had killed my geese. Then he came back again, and perching on a projecting rafter spoke to me with human voice, and told me to leave off crying. 'Be of good courage,' he said, 'daughter of Ikarios; this is no dream, but a vision of good omen that shall surely come to pass. The geese are the suitors, and I am no longer an eagle, but your own husband, who am come back to you, and who will bring these suitors to a disgraceful end.' On this I woke, and when I looked out I saw my geese at the trough eating their mash as usual." [554] "This dream, lady," replied Odysseus, "can admit but of one interpretation, for had not Odysseus himself told you how it shall be fulfilled? The death of the suitors is portended, and not one single one of them will escape." [559] And Penelope answered, "Stranger, dreams are very curious and unaccountable things, and they do not by any means invariably come true. There are two gates through which these unsubstantial fancies proceed; the one is of horn, and the other ivory. Those that come through the gate of ivory are fatuous, but those from the gate of horn mean something to those that see them. I do not think, however, that my own dream came through the gate of horn, though I and my son should be most thankful if it proves to have done so.

On the surface this dream seems to be very straightforward and even explains itself. Below the surface, however, there is a lot of hidden agenda between Odysseus and Penelope who are constantly testing each other. This dream is an ainos that only Odysseus should be able to "get."

The "love story" of Odysseus and Penelope, which preoccupies the second half of the Odyssey, can only be understood in terms of the process of their mutual recognition.

After Odysseus achieves a physical nostos by literally coming home to Ithaca, he still needs to achieve a mental / moral / emotional nostos, For this to happen, the characters in the second half of the Odyssey have to connect with him on various levels. The key to this "connection" is the hero's ascending scale of affection.

The characters involved in the hero's ascending scale of affection include: his dog; his loyal servants, like Eumaios and Eurykleia; his son; his wife; his father. All these characters have to "read" the disguised Odysseus in order to recognize him. Correlated with recognition is philia.

A primary form of philia: the relationship between lovers.

The challenge of "reading" Odysseus is the challenge of "reading" the ulterior motives of his ainoi. The ainoi that Odysseus intends for Penelope are a kind of "love song."

3. Review with the help of focus passage "D": "[1] Tell me, O Muse, of that many-sided hero who traveled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy. Many cities did he visit, and many were the people with whose customs and thinking [noos] he was acquainted; many things he suffered at sea while seeking to save his own life [psukhê] and to achieve the safe homecoming [nostos] of his companions; but do what he might he could not save his men, for they perished through their own sheer recklessness in eating the cattle of the Sun-god Helios; so the god prevented them from ever reaching home. Tell me, as you have told those who came before me, about all these things, O daughter of Zeus, starting from whatsoever point you choose."

4a. Emphasis now on Odyssey i 3 Odysseus saw the cities of many and came to know their/his noos

4b. Emphasis now on Odyssey i 5 Odysseus seeking to win as a prize his psukhê, plus [his nostos and] the nostos of his companions

5. Now consider focus passage "B" from Odyssey xi:

B) from Odyssey xi: Then came also the ghost [psukhê] of Theban Teiresias, with his golden scepter in his hand. He knew me and said, 'Odysseus, noble son of Laertes, why, poor man, have you left the light of day and come down to visit the dead in this sad place? Stand back from the trench and withdraw your sword that I may drink of the blood and answer your questions truly.' [97] So I drew back, and sheathed my sword, whereon when he had drank of the blood he began with his prophecy [= words of a mantis]. [100] 'You want to know,' said he, 'about your return home [nostos], but heaven will make this hard for you. I do not think that you will escape the eye of Poseidon, who still nurses his bitter grudge against you for having blinded his son. Still, after much suffering you may get home if you can restrain yourself and your companions when your ship reaches the Thrinacian island, where you will find the sheep and cattle belonging to the sun, who sees and gives ear to everything. If you leave these flocks unharmed and think of nothing but of getting home [nostos], you may yet after much hardship reach Ithaca; but if you harm them, then I forewarn you of the destruction both of your ship and of your men. Even though you may yourself escape, you will return in bad plight after losing all your men, in another man's ship, and you will find trouble in your house, which will be overrun by high-handed people, who are devouring your substance under the pretext of paying court and making presents to your wife. [118] When you get home you will take your revenge on these suitors; and after you have killed them by force [biê] or fraud in your own house, you must take a well-made oar and carry it on and on, till you come to a country where the people have never heard of the sea and do not even mix salt with their food, nor do they know anything about ships, and oars that are as the wings of a ship. I will give you this certain token [sêma] which cannot escape your notice. A wayfarer will meet you and will say it must be a winnowing shovel that you have got upon your shoulder; on this you must fix the oar in the ground and sacrifice a ram, a bull, and a boar to Poseidon. Then go home and offer hecatombs to the gods in heaven one after the other. As for yourself, death shall come to you from the sea, and your life shall ebb away very gently when you are full of years and peace of mind, and your people shall be prosperous [olbioi]. All that I have said will come true.'

5a. Compare xi 121-137 with the different version in xxiii 267-8: there it is made explicit that Odysseus is to travel through the cities of humankind. The "journey of a soul" through many different cultures, with different values, is key to noos.

5b. Compare Odyssey i 3: Odysseus, by virtue of traveling throughout the cities of humankind, comes to "know" noos. The question remains: whose noos?

5c. xi 126 'I will give you this certain token [sêma], and you cannot have lêthê about it'.

6. 'winnowing-shovel' at xi 128; it is a mistake to translate as 'winnowing-fan'; a winnowing shovel looks just like an oar, but a winnowing-fan does not.

7. Focus passage "C"... Three variant tales, collected by folklorists in early-20th-century Greece and analyzed by W. F. Hansen, about St. Elias [known as the Prophet Elijah in the Hebrew bible]:

C) Two variant tales, collected by folklorists in early-20th-century Greece and analyzed by William F. Hansen, about St. Elias [known as the Prophet Elijah in the Hebrew bible]:

Variant 1[A]: Saint Elias was a seaman who lived a dissolute life, but he repented of what he had done and thereby detested the sea. {Variant 1B: because he had suffered much at sea and had often nearly drowned, he became disgusted with voyaging.} He resolved to go to a place where people know neither what the sea was nor what ships were. Putting his oar on his shoulder he set out on land, asking everyone he met what he was carrying. So long as they answered that it was an oar, he proceeded to higher and higher ground. Finally, at the top of a mountain he asked his question, and the people answered, 'a stick'. Understanding then that they had never seen an oar, he remained there with them.

Variant 2: The Prophet Elias was a fisherman who, because of terrible weather and terrific storms, became afraid of the sea. So he put an oar on his shoulder and took to the hills. When he met a man, he asked him what it was he was carrying; the man answered that it was an oar, and Elias went on. The same happened when he met a second man. But at the top of a mountain, he asked a third man, who replied, 'why, that's a stick'. Saint Elias resolved to stay there. He planted his oar in the ground, and that is why his chapels are all built on hilltops.

Variant 3: In some versions, the natives' decisive answer is not 'a stick' but 'a baker's peel' [phtyari tou phournou = "winnowing-shovel of the oven"].

8. Feast Day of St. Elias: July 20. This date coincides, roughly, with harvesting season. It is around this time when wheat is gathered and winnowed.

9. There is a hero cult of Odysseus in Arcadia, where he is worshipped together with Athena as goddess of pilots and Poseidon as god of the sea (Pausanias 8.44.4); note that Arcadia is mountainous and landlocked. Of all locales in mainland Greece, it is farthest away from the sea.

10. Planting of winnowing-shovel on top of a mound of winnowed grain (Theocritus 7.155ff): a symbolic gesture, meaning "the harvest is accomplished = finished."

11. Tomb of Elpenor: xi 75-78, xii 13-15. This sêma 'tomb' is also a 'sign, signal, symbol' meaning "the sailor is dead."

12. olbioi 'prosperous; blessed' at xi 137 (see again last line of focus passage "B" as quoted at #5); singular olbios. This word means 'prosperous' on the surface and 'blessed' (applying to the dead hero) under the surface (in the language of ainos).

13. When Teiresias says at xi 134 (again #5 above), 'death from the sea', the wording is ambiguous: it can also mean 'death away from the sea'.

14. "The message of [the sêma of Teiresias] is twofold neither for the seafarers nor for the inlanders since the former can surely distinguish oars from winnowing shovels while the latter are presented as knowing only about winnowing shovels. Rather the message is twofold only for Odysseus as the traveler since he sees that the same signal has two distinct messages in two distinct places: what is an oar for the seafarers is a winnowing shovel for the inlanders." - Nagy, Pindar's Homer at ch. 8, p.232. For further discussion, see Pindar's Homer at ch. 8, p.231, "Let us begin by considering the prooemium of the Odyssey."

15. In order to understand the sêma, Odysseus must have noos. In order to have the noos to see more than one side of reality, Odysseus must travel: he must have a "journey of a soul."